Tag Archives: Speculative Fiction

THE WALL – Marlen Haushofer (1963)

The Wall HaushoferI don’t know why, but it seems I am drawn to books about singular women that have a heightened contact with nature. I’ve just read The Forgotten Beasts of Eld by Patricia McKillip, about a female wizard that grew up in isolation, surrounded by fantastic beasts. I also have fond memories of Drive Your Plow over the Bones of the Dead by the Polish Olga Tokarczuk – who won the 2018 Nobel Prize. And don’t get me started on The Door by the Hungarian Magda Szabó: while my review of that 1987 book was just short, it is one of my favorite reads ever – if you haven’t read it, I urge you to give it a try.

25 years older than The Door and 46 years younger than Drive Your Plow…, The Wall also has a central European origin: Austria. Marlen Haushofer wrote it in German, and Die Wand was translated in English in 1990 by Shaun Whiteside.

The story has a clear speculative premise: the female protagonist gets trapped in the Austrian mountains, as a suddenly appearing giant transparent wall closes her in, encircling the hunting lodge and the surrounding landscape – mountains, woods, an alm, a valley. It seems all animal life outside the wall is dead, and the woman is left to her own devices to survive – together with a cow, a dog, and a cat.

Those expecting a full-fledged sci-fi romp will be disappointed if they can’t appreciate anything outside genre. The origin of the wall is never explained, nor explored. It is something of a paradox that the story’s only speculative element is at the same time very dominant, yet hardly present. Haushofer’s choices make for a novel that hasn’t dated at all.

The Wall takes the form of a first-person account of the woman, who writes about her ordeals to keep madness at bay. The book has no chapters, and its 224 pages are one long sequence describing chronologically what happened, with the occasional foreshadowing rumination. The story’s focus is rather monomaniacal, and what happens is more or less predictable: she turns to a farming life, one that might offer her better chances of self-realization than her old life.

In a way, it is a miracle Haushofer managed to write an utterly compelling novel, rather than a drab, boring tale about someone planting potatoes again and again. The Wall sucked me in after 30 pages, and if I could, I would have finished it in one sitting. Continue reading

2021 FAVORITES

The continuing pandemic freed up time this year as well, so I read 38 titles in 2021. As always, I won’t make too many promises about what I’ll read in the coming months, but I’ll finish my reread of the Dune series – Chapterhouse: Dune should be one of the next reviews I post. Greg Egan, Kim Stanley Robinson, M. John Harrison and Antwerp author J.M.H. Berckmans have become regulars on this blog, and they will remain so.

I’ll continue to read non-fiction too, I’ve amassed a bit more science books than I usually have on my pile – yearly picture below. New additions are books on vision and the brain, oceans and economy. I also hope to finally read Feynman’s QED on light. As for art books, I’m still reading on Picasso, and I’ll try to finally start with Becher or Twombly, long overdue.


Before I’ll get to this year’s favorites, a bit of blog stats for those of you who are interested in such a thing. I’ve again had a significant increase of traffic: 38,763 views and 21,108 visitors – about 16,000 and 8,000 more than in 2020. Lots of that traffic seems to be driven by my writings on Frank Herbert – I guess the Villeneuve movie increased the interest in analysis of his work.

Of the posts I wrote in 2021 Dune: Part One, God Emperor of Dune and The Book of the New Sun were most read: 1567, 1210 and 1106 views. To offer a bit of perspective: last year that top 3 was Dune Messiah, Children of Dune and The Ministry for the Future, and they only got 675, 501 and 363 views.

As for all-time stats, most read reviews so far are those for Dune Messiah (2742 views since published), Recursion (2631) and Piranesi (2255). There’s 14 posts with over 1000 views now, and an additional 23 with over 500 views in total. I’ve been blogging for 6 years, and so far I’ve published 266 posts.


As always, a big thank you to everyone who has read what I write, and an extra special thanks to those that have commented, linked or pressed the like button: much appreciated, it doesn’t go unnoticed. My best wishes to you and yours for 2022 and beyond.



FAVORITE READS

As for the actual favorite book list: below are the titles I’ve given a 5-star rating on Goodreads in 2021, six books in total – the older I get, the harder it seems to become to rate something the full 5 stars. If I had to pick one, I’d go for The Book of the New Sun, an old favorite that held up well to rereading, or maybe Contingency And Convergence – I learned so much from that book.

Honorable mentions for Eschbach’s The Hair-Carpet Weavers, Harrison’s Nova Swing, Robinson’s The Gold Coast, Cook’s The Black Company, Buchanan & Powell’s The Evolution of Moral Progress: A Biocultural Theory, Stephenson’s Termination Shock and, in Dutch, Boon’s De Voorstad Groeit. All more than excellent reads, well worth your time.

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IN DEFENSE OF NEGATIVE REVIEWS

Following an exchange of thoughts on a worst reads of 2020 post on Re-enchantment Of The World, I’ve decided to write a bit about writing negative reviews, and the abundance of positive reviews one encounters.


I’m sure some of the more critical readers of this blog are at times baffled by all the positive reviews they see for – let’s be frank here – generic, uninspired produce. That is very noticeable on Goodreads, where new titles often harvest +4 scores quickly, and also in the blogosphere negative reviews are fairly rare.

That most books published today are generic needs no proof. Still, let me refer you to this brilliant piece on Speculiction, that looks at book titles of Fantasy published around 2018. The proliferation of accessible word-processing, cheap laptop computers and ever better and cheaper printing methods have flooded the market.

Everybody with a creative inclination and enough spare time can write a book nowadays. Our culture seems to laud free expression and believing in your own, unique self, and that seems to trick lots of people into thinking they are artists too. The dedication of Herbert and Tolkien to write their big books by hand or on a typewriter simply isn’t necessary anymore today. Editing has never been more easy.

But while Joseph Beuys claimed that Jeder Mensch ist ein Künstler in the 60ies, his beef was with the fact that not everybody could study at an art academy in Germany at the time. So rather than a call for everybody to start writing books, Beuys’ ostensibly democratic dictum should rather be read as a call to learn how to write books first.

Pulp and generic writing have always existed, but whereas the pulp around 1960 was published in short books of about 140 pages, today it seems growth is an inescapable law for books too – new titles averaging 450 pages instead, often as a part of a series. While they have a cultural veneer, big publishers are in the sales business first and foremost: selling more volume = more profit.

I could add e-readers, self-publishing and free blogging as factors, but the gist is clear: the speculative fiction reader is overwhelmed by new titles this day and age.

This phenomenon isn’t restricted to speculative fiction, by the way. I have followed the metal scene actively since the early 90ies, and also in metal there is an exponential proliferation of bands, albums, releases. For fringe genres like black or death metal there were only a handful of labels, and one could more or less keep up with everything released if one was so inclined and had the money or enough tapes to trade. But with success comes a bandwagon, and somewhere between 1995 and 2000 things mushroomed.

Similar causes are easily pointed at here as well, and technology is a big part of it: everybody can make a very decent home studio with just a laptop and one mic. Top notch recording & mixing software like Audacity and Bandcamp are free. Designing a decent album cover similarly isn’t that hard anymore as it was in the early days of MS Paint or xeroxed fanzines. On top of all that, Bandcamp and others have solved the problem of distribution. 

That leaves marketing as the sole problem – both for the aspiring metal band, as the big publisher of speculative fiction. And as technology, the internet and free time steadily become more available in developing countries too, the pool of creative humans becomes bigger and bigger with each passing day. 

Enter negative reviews. Continue reading

2020 FAVORITES

The pandemic freed up time, so I read 40 titles in 2020, 14 more than last year. I won’t make too much promises about what I’ll read in the coming months, but I will continue my reread of the Dune series – God Emperor should be the next review I post. I’ll also continue to explore Greg Egan’s work, and the work of Antwerp author J.M.H. Berckmans.

As for art books, I’m still reading on Picasso & Rembrandt – we’ll see if that gets translated into posts. I’ll try to squeeze in some of the Becher, Turrell and Twombly I promised last year, but I also want to read books on Jean Fouquet and Hockney. I’ll continue to read other non-fiction too, I’m currently tackling Contingency and Convergence – Toward a Cosmic Biology of Body and Mind by Russel Powell, a joy so far. Should be of interest to any hard SF authors imagining alien life.


A bit of blog stats for those of you who might be interested in such a thing. I’ve had a significant increase of traffic, with 22.971 views in 2020, and 13.032 visitors – about 8.000 and 4.300 more than in 2019.

The most successful post of 2020 was about Dune Messiah, garnering 675 views. Children of Dune comes in second with 501 views. The Ministry for the Future – posted only 2 months ago – closes the top 3 with 363 views.

Most read reviews so far are those for Recursion (2.124 views since published), The Dosadi Experiment (1.212 views) and New York 2140 (1.097 views). Also still going strong (+800 views) are posts on The Wandering Earth, Green Earth, The Algebraist and Uprooted. There are 23 posts with over 500 views in total now, 6 of which are about Frank Herbert books.

A big thank you to everyone who has read, liked, commented or linked. All the best to you and yours for 2021.


As for the actual favorite book list: below are the titles I’ve given a 5-star rating on Goodreads in 2020, 6 in total. If I had to pick one, I’d go for Radiance by Carter Scholz.

Honorable mentions for The Day of the Triffids, Solaris, The Sunken Land Begins to Rise Again and How History Gets Things Wrong: The Neuroscience of Our Addiction to Stories, all more than excellent reads, well worth your time.

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THE SUNKEN LAND BEGINS TO RISE AGAIN – M. John Harrison (2020)

The Sunken Land Begins To Rise Again“Hard to know if it’s a neurosis or a survival characteristic.”

This is a tough nut to crack. You could say that I’m a Harrison fan – his latest short fiction collection You Should Come With Me Know was one of my favorite reads in 2017, and I liked the strange 2002 science fiction novel Light a lot. But aside the 15 pages of Doe Lea, I haven’t read anything else by him. The seminal Viriconium is on my TBR, as are the final 2 installments in the Kefahuchi Tract trilogy began with Light. I also found a second hand copy of his 1971 debut The Committed Men – a new wave post-apocalyptic story set in the UK, and a copy of The Centauri Device, an “anti-space opera” that influenced Banks & Reynolds. I plan to read all of those, but at my current rate it will take me years. Anyhow, if you are a bit familiar with the titles I listed, you’ll notice Harrison has an impressive range – I know few speculative writers who have such a varied output.

It is 2020 today, and it is clear M. John Harrison has covered a lot of millage as a writer in the 50 years he’s been writing publicly. His first novel since 2012, The Sunken Land Begins To Rise Again is published by Gollancz – which has published only science fiction and fantasy since its ownership changed in 1998. It’s maybe fitting Harrison’s new novel reconnects it to the company’s origin as a publisher of “high quality literature” too. The Sunken Land Begins To Rise Again is not science fiction. Speculative fiction could do, maybe, but I’d hesitate to use that moniker. Aside from a label that determines a potential reader’s expectations, the question of genre might not be important, were it not that Harrison seems to try and subvert every genre he writes in. A “failed allegory” perhaps?

This novel is a portrait of a lonely man and a lonely woman, both in some kind of anxious midlife crisis, both experiencing “a triumph of disconnection”, laterally entangled in some vague, batshit conspiracy, firmly embedded in London & Shropshire landscapes, sprinkled with a few weird, wrenched elements – but rest assured: those elements never dominate the story.

Harrison – undoubtly “a high-functioning romantic” like Victoria – mentions quite a few painters, paintings or prints. Aside from capriccios by Felix Kelly, and prints from John Atkinson Grimshaw and Eric Ravilious, he explicitly names The Red Rook (1948) by Gertrude Abercrombie, Sea Idyll (1887) by Arnold Böcklin, The Colossi of Memmon, Thebes, One (1872) by Carl Friedrich Heinrich Werner and Solar Eclipse in Venice, 6 July 1842 by Ippolito Cafi. Continue reading

2019 FAVORITES

I might have to change the subtitle of this blog, as only 8 of the 26 books I read in 2019 were science fiction, and 3 were fantasy. I’m not sure if that trend will continue. We’ll see what crosses my path, or what grabs my attention from the stack pictured a few scrolls down. I’ll continue with a few art books in the mix though: titles on James Turrell, Bernd & Hilla Becher and Cy Twombly are in the queue.

For now, a genuine thank you to everyone who has read, liked, linked or commented. All the best to you and yours for 2020!

The new year should see a review of The Lord Of The Rings – I’ve finally started that, it’s great so far – and the massive Kolyma Stories by Varlam Shalamov, a book I started last January, digesting it in small doses. I had hoped to finish it before the second volume of translations comes out this month, but I won’t manage that. I also plan to write on Intermediary Spaces, the Éliane Radigue interview book by Julia Eckardt. I will also continue my rereads of the Dune series. (Update 26/02: my LOTR review turned out to be a massive 7000+ words, so enter at your own risk…)


A few blog stats for those of you who might be interested in such a thing… There were 14,913 views in 2019, and 8,719 visitors – a bit more than in 2018. The review I wrote the past year that was most successful was Destination: Void with 255 views. The most read reviews so far are those for New York 2140 (979 views since published), The Dosadi Experiment (957 views) and The Wandering Earth (768 views). Also still going strong (+500 views) are reviews for Green Earth, Death’s End, Last And First Men, What Kind Of Creatures Are We?, The Algebraist, Uprooted and Whipping Star. Most of these keep on getting views every couple of days. Herbert, Cixin Liu and KSR always seem to be do well, but I have no quick explanation for the success of my texts on Stapledon, Chomsky or Novik.


As for the actual list: below are the books I’ve given a 5-star rating on Goodreads in 2019, only 4 in total. Gibson’s Pattern Recognition, Darwinian Reductionism: Or, How to Stop Worrying and Love Molecular Biology and Vincent Van Gogh: The Complete Paintings each got 4 stars, and are all highly recommended too.

I might not have had that many perfect reads last year, but I enjoyed all the more music. If you scroll down, you’ll see that I’ve written a whole lot more about albums as I did the previous years – 2019 has been great on that front.

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2018 FAVORITES

As life continues to happen, this year’s posting ratio again slowed down a bit, but still the reader base keeps expanding if I have to believe WordPress stats. As always, a genuine thank you to everyone who has read, liked, linked or commented. My best wishes for 2019!

I’ve started 31 titles in 2018, a bit more than last year, but I DNFed 4 of those – a bit more than usual as well. I added more art books into the mix, and that trend will probably continue. I tend to read books on art a bit differently than regular fiction, more in small doses, a few pages each time, so it takes me a lot longer to finish them. I’m reading 2 at the moment: the treasure trove that is Nico Dockx Talks To Dennis Tyfus and Metzger & Walther’s Van Gogh, The Complete Paintings – which includes a detailed artistic biography drawing heavily from the letters. I would included both of those in my best of list below if I had finished them this year. Books on James Turrell, Bernd & Hilla Becher, Cy Twombly and Picasso are in the queue.

Anyhow, below are the books I gave a 5-star rating on Goodreads in 2018 – only 5 in total – in no particular order. For starters Blindsight though – which I gave 4 stars, yet I feel it still belongs in my year-end list. Click on the covers for the review.

After the books, music and some television.

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2017 FAVORITES

My 2017 posting ratio is about half of what it was last year, as life continues to happen, but the number of readers on Weighing A Pig keeps rising slowly but steadily. A big thank you to everyone who has read, liked, linked or commented. My best wishes for 2018!

I’ve read 29 titles in 2017, and reviewed 26. Below are the ones I gave a 5-star rating on Goodreads, 8 in total, in no particular order. Click on the covers for the review. After the books, music & art.

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2016 FAVORITES

First up: I want to express my gratitude to everyone who has read, liked, linked or commented. Thank you. My best wishes for the new year!

I’ve read 54 titles in 2016, and reviewed 52. Below are the ones I enjoyed most, in no particular order. Click on the covers for the review. After the books, music.

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Click here for an index of my non-fiction or art book reviews only, and here for an index of my longer fiction reviews of a more scholarly & philosophical nature.

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

A

Joe Abercrombie

Daniel Abraham

David Adger

Saladin Ahmed

Brian W. Aldiss

  • Non-Stop (1958)  (also published as Starship)

Poul Anderson

Isaac Asimov

Margaret Atwood

B

Paolo Bacigalupi

R. Scott Bakker

J.G. Ballard

Josiah Bancroft

Iain M. Banks

Stephen Baxter

Elizabeth Bear

Greg Bear

Bradley P. Beaulieu

Adam Becker

Robert Jackson Bennett

Jean-Marie Henri Berckmans

Alfred Bester

Jonathan Bikker & Gregor J.M. Weber

Michael Bishop

Louis Paul Boon

Thomas Boraud

Ray Bradbury

John Brunner

Allen Buchanan

Octavia E. Butler

C

Chris Ceustermans

Ted Chiang

Noam Chomsky

Arthur C. Clarke

Susanna Clarke

D.G. Compton

C.S.E. Cooney

James S.A. Corey

Blake Crouch

D

Kenneth L. Davis

Aliette de Bodard

Samuel L. Delany

Don DeLillo

Philip K. Dick

Seth Dickinson

Nico Dockx

E

Greg Egan

Steven Erikson

Andreas Eschbach

F

Jeffrey Ford

G

Neil Gaiman

Nicole Galland

Martin Gayford

Lisa-Ann Gershwin

William Gibson

Carolyn Ives Gilman

Michael Govan & Christine Y. Kim

H

Joe Haldeman

Peter F. Hamilton

Wayne G. Hammond

Helene Hanff

M. John Harrison

Marlen Haushofer

Robert A. Heinlein

Ernest Hemingway

Brian Herbert & Kevin J. Anderson

Frank Herbert

Werner Herzog

Cecelia Holland

Hans Werner Holzwarth

Leen Huet

Dave Hutchinson

I

Kazuo Ishiguro

Emmi Itäranta

J

Shirley Jackson

Nora K. Jemisin

K

Anna Kavan

Guy Gavriel Kay

L

David F. Lancy

Ann Leckie

Yoon Ha Lee

Ursula K. Le Guin

Stanisław Lem

Cixin Liu

Ken Liu

Christopher Lloyd

M

Helen Macdonald

Hilary Mantel

Volker Manuth

Barry N. Malzberg

Arkady Martine

Cormac McCarthy

Ian McDonald

Richard McGuire

Patricia Anne McKillip

Christof Metzger

Rainer Metzger

Walter M. Miller Jr.

China Miéville

David Mitchell

Naomi Mitchison

Richard K. Morgan

Museum Frieder Burda

N

Vladimir Nabokov

Linda Nagata

Sylvain Neuvel

Larry Niven

Naomi Novik

O

Nnedi Okorafor

Brian Olewnick

P

Ada Palmer

Dexter Palmer

Jaak Panksepp

Frederik Pohl

Russell Powell  (as of 2021 known as Rachell Powell)

Richard Powers

Christopher Priest

R

Matthew Revert

Alastair Reynolds

Adam Roberts

Kim Stanley Robinson

Alex Rosenberg

Patrick Rothfuss

Joanna Russ

S

Brandon Sanderson

Carter Scholz

Christina Scull

Manfred Sellink

Robert Silverberg

Clifford D. Simak

Dan Simmons

Jan Six

Jan Spitzer

W. Olaf Stapledon

Neal Stephenson

Arkady & Boris Strugatsky

Theodore Sturgeon

Larry W. Swanson (ed.)

Magda Szabó

T

Lavie Tidhar

Olga Tokarczuk

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien

Michael Tomasello

Dennis Tyfus

V

Jeff VanderMeer

Pierre L. Van den Berghe

Ernst van de Wetering

Brian K. Vaughan

Denis Villeneuve

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

W

Peter Watts

Andy Weir

H.G. Wells

Peter Williams

Gene Wolfe

John Wyndham

Z

Roger Zelazny